Melody: The Shape, Canaro’s “Quiero verte una vez más”


Melodic Aspects
This post is the first in a planned series on aspects of . Although the subject is vast, there are a two broad categories, melodic shape and melodic rhythm, which can be used to explain and describe any particular melody’s musical qualities and the resulting emotional responses we get when hearing it.

Within these two categories fall many musical elements: s, , interval spacing (the distance between two notes), the use of scales, s, chord tones, non-chord tones, s, melodic patterns, rhythmic patterns, and many others.

This post is about melodic shape. Melodic rhythm and maybe a few others will come later.

What is Melodic Shape?
Melodic shape is the direction the melody generally moves in terms of pitch. There are an infinite number of shapes a melody can take. Focusing on whether the direction is mostly up, down, or sideways is a practical approach. There are no hard and fast rules, and like many aspects in music, everything is relative to what is happening now and what has happened before.

Melodic shape contributes greatly to how we perceive sense of movement: expansion, advance; contraction, retreat; immobility, stationarity. A sideways melodic shape anchors us in the moment; there is a sense of being motionless, at rest, in repose. Sometimes a sideways melodic shape creates tension, demanding resolution through movement. A rising melody leads us forwards, a declining one pulls us back. A typical Question and Answer ebb and flow, in other words. Questions may have generally rising melodies; Answer melodies may generally decline. Rising melodies are bolder, more optimistic, sunnier in nature than descending ones. A very big over simplification but generally true.

Of course no single musical element is ever all we hear at any given time. It really is not possible to completely isolate a specific musical element on its own, with the exception, perhaps, of rhythm. We can’t divorce melody from its rhythm, but we can still study its shape. I decided to highlight a section from a single tango which uses melodic shape to great effect. Melodic rhythm and many of the other melodic components mentioned above are there too, in abundance, but shape is nicely delineated between the primary and counter melodies, so that’s what I’ve chosen to present here.

Melodic Shape in Francisco Canaro’s “Quiero verte una vez más”
(“I need to see you one more time”)

Overview
Francisco’s brother, Mario, wrote the music with lyrics by José María Contursi. Canaro recorded an instrumental version in 1939 and one with singer Ernesto Rondó in 1961. “Quiero verte una vez más” was certainly a very popular tango, being recorded by many of the great s, including De Angelis, Pontier, Lomuto, D’Arienzo, Caló, Biagi, and Pugliese. Quite an impressive list! Tango.info has the full list, here.

Besides being a marvelous example of the use of melodic shape, this piece has perfect Question and Answer phrasing. Phrases within phrases within phrases; every 2 s moving in a very satisfying ebb and flow, advance and pullback. Melodic shape is one factor which greatly contributes to this sensation.

I decided to use the vocal version because the contrasting melodic shapes between the primary melody, sung by Rondó, and the counter melody, played instrumentally, really stand out. The lyrics and translation are available on Planet Tango, here. The instrumental version is on Youtube, here.

Form
Although not necessary for a post about melodic shape, I always want to know the music’s . Exactly how many larger s there are, their length, the order they are played, and when they are sung. Knowing this basic information, and being able to identify each section as it is played, goes a long way towards understanding the music’s essence.

There are two s played in the following order:
A (16 s, instrumental)
B (16 bars, vocal)
A (16 bars, vocal)
A (16 bars, vocal)
A (instrumental melody alternating with bandoneon variación counter melody, first 8 Bar Phrase)
A (vocal, second 8 Bar Phrase)

Melodic Shape
I take a close look at melodic shape in Section B, but first listen to the music from start to end. When listening, focus on the melody, played by bandoneons, and the counter melody, played by the piano. Section B (vocal) and the vocal repeats of Section A alternate vocal and instrumental melodies. Each of the melodies occupies a single bar and alternate in 2 bar phrases. That pattern is a defining quality and is heard throughout the piece. (Not always; sections end with a different and more climatic 4 Bar Phrase). Feel the ebb and flow and communication back and forth between the two melodies and across the phrases. And pay attention to their shape – is it sideways, rising, falling, or some combination? What is the effect different melodic shapes have? How does the direction melodies move help create ?

“Quiero verte una vez más” in full.

Section B
Now I’ll explore melodic shape in Section B and hopefully answer the questions posed above. Section B is only heard once and it is the first vocal verse. It has a particularly effective use of melodic shape. Pay close attention to the alternating vocal melody and instrumental counter melody. Notice the two melodies are differentiated by their contrasting shapes and the range between their notes (tessitura).

Here is the entire section.
Section B

Section B, 4 Bar Phrases with 2 Bar Question and Answer Phrasing
The music is beautifully shaped in 4 Bar Phrases with sensations of advance and retreat flowing along at regularly spaced intervals. The advances are 2 Bar Questions; the retreats are 2 Bar Answers. And both begin with a vocal melody in the first bar and continuing with an instrumental counter melody in the second.

Listen to each phrase in full then drill down to it’s component 2 bar Question and 2 bar Answer.

The first 4 Bar Phrase

The first Question.

The melody Rondó begins singing has a sideways melodic shape. After singing the same note six times the melody drops slightly – a tone – and that note is heard three times. The style is declamatory; a Question.

Starting from the note last heard in the melody, the instrumental counter melody’s shape is very different. It has a relatively wider more expansive range, rising then descending back to where it began. A completely different feeling. The rising melody opens up the sound; it is momentarily brighter before descending back to where Rondó left us.

The pattern of rapid notes in a mostly sideways melodic shape, alternating with a more expansive one in the instrumental counter melody is a defining characteristic in Section B.

The first Answer.

The tessitura is the same – in the same pitch range. The sung melody’s shape is a little wider, first rising for two notes then falling back two notes to the original one. The falling back is the important shape. By declining, a softer feeling, a slight sense of anguish is created. An Answer.

The counter melody’s shape is unidirectional this time: beginning from where the melody stopped, it rises quite a bit. There is a noticeable contrast to the morose feeling created by the sideways-declining vocal Answer. The level reached is relatively high compared to where the vocal melody finished, which nicely prepares for the next vocal melody.

The second 4 Bar Phrase

The second Question.

The counter melody rose to a higher tessitura and this level is where the vocal melody is placed. The mood is instantly brighter. The melodic shape is again sideways ending with a slight downturn. Another declamatory statement, another Question. This time more bold because of the higher pitch level.

The counter melody rises then declines scale-wise, once again in a wider range than the vocal melody.

The second Answer.

The melody is still sideways but rather than repeat notes it moves in a zig-zag pattern (up a step, down a third, up a third, down a step, ending where it began). A bit of movement then retreat; an Answer.

The counter melody again is wider, rising up then falling back down.

The third 4 Bar Phrase
The phrase begins the same as the first one, with a different Answer.

The third Question.

Sames as in the first 4 Bar phrase’s Question: a sideways melodic shape followed by a relatively wide rising then falling counter melody.

The third Answer.

The melody continues from where it left off, rising with a leap up near the end before falling back. Prior vocal melodies were mostly sideways. The rising melody with a small leap is very poignant. The music is becoming a little more open and bolder – gradually and not much so far. That is about to change.

The counter melody rises, increasing the intensity.

The fourth 4 Bar Phrase
The fourth 4 Bar Phrase concludes the section and it is the most different. Final 4 Bar Phrases are frequently more climatic in order to clearly mark the end of a major portion of the music – the section. This phrase tends that way but there is restraint at the end.

The fourth Question.

The section is ending and the music is working towards a climax. Starting in the higher tessitura the prior counter melody led us to, the melody is again sideways and declammatory.

The counter melody broadly rises from where the melody ended. It is a series of rising notes ending on the highest one, increasing the bolder, more dramatic mood.

The fourth Answer.

The vocal melody begins where it left off and rises to the highest note heard in the melody. As the melody approaches the high note the instrumental counter melody begins to broadly fall from where it left off in the Question. Most of the time a melody rising to its highest pitch is climatic. It is here but the effect is lessened because the widely descending counter melody creates a sense of withdrawal and inwardness. Despite the long high note in the voice the mood darkens somewhat in preparation for the change in the music to come. The wide declining counter melody makes a nice transition to the return of Section A, this time sung.

I’ll stop here. Of course much more is going on in the creation of phrases and shifting moods than melodic shape. But hopefully I managed to show clearly how direction makes an essential contribution.

Melodies are a succession of notes moving through time, one at a time. Melody is the proper term for what some some call the "tune".

Melodic shape and melodic rhythm are two factors every melody uses in some way. Melodic shape is the general direction the melody moves in terms of pitch: up, down, sideways. Melodic rhythm is the rhythm(s) applied to the pitches.

Many other elements fall within these two categories. Some are: tessitura, interval spacing (the distance between two notes), the use of arpeggios, chord tones, scales, non-chord tones, syncopation, and many others.

A short melodic and/or rhythmic figure having distinct musical character and qualities. A motif is often a component of the larger melody.

An example, Carlos Di Sarli's Bahia Blanca:
The first 2 bars

Notice how the last few notes, the melodic shape and rhythm, are used to create the echo-sighing effect in the next couple of bars. Those notes are a motif.
Bars 3-4

Tessitura is a term used to describe two things, both concerning pitches in a melody or portion of music. One aspect specifically describes the pitch range, for example from the lowest to highest note in a melody. The other aspect is the music's overall pitch level, its register, such as mostly low sounding notes or mostly high sounding notes.

For more information and audio examples, click here.

An arpeggio is a chord (a harmony) that is broken up into individual notes, that is, the notes are heard one at a time in succession, not simultaneously. Arpeggios are frequently heard in the melody and somewhat less in the accompaniment.

More information, music and audio examples are here.

When a melodic pattern is repeated, starting on different notes each time. Each repetition has the same melodic shape and melodic rhythm as the original statement.

The starting notes may be in an ascending or descending direction, based on notes in the underlying scale or an arpeggio on the underlying harmony; or some other interval. Typically the pattern is played three times.

The last 4 Bar Phrase in Section B (bars 29-32) of Di Sarli's Bahia Blanca is a sequence. The same one bar melody is played three times, the second and third time a scale step lower that the preceding one. A sequence doesn't have to be the melody. In this example the piano also plays a sequence in a counter-melody like relationship with the melody. The sequence is a bar of four bass notes in an ascending arpeggio, repeated from different starting notes.

The melodic pattern is played three times.

An orquesta típica is an ensemble of musicians who play tango music. Typically,  there is a string section, a bandoeon section, a piano, and sometimes a singer or two. There is no specific rhythm section – no drums or other percussion instruments. An orquesta típica is an expanded version of a sexteto tipico, which includes 2 bandoneons, 2 violins, double bass, and piano.

I call any band that plays tango, no matter what the instrumentation, an orquesta. Not entirely accurate but it simplifies things.

A bar or measure is a small segment of music containing all the number of beats as specified by the time signature.

How the music is organized, structured; the number of sections and the way they  are constructed, the number of bars and phrases in each, and the order they are performed. more...

Composers/arrangers make a very conscious decision regarding form. The order sections are heard greatly effects our sensations and responses as listeners and dancers.

Sections are the top level element of music's form. They are the the large building blocks of tango music, typically lasting around thirty seconds or so. Each section is a unique segment of music, having a distinct musical character.

Tango music has two, occasionally three, primary sections, which we may label  “A”, “B”, “C”. Sometimes there is an "Introduction", "Bridge", a short section between two larger ones, or "Coda", a short concluding section.

Usually each section will be played consecutively in order (A then B then C), followed by various other orderings. Typically in tango songs each section is played instrumentally then each is sung, then section A is played instrumentally: A-B-A (vocal)-B (vocal)-A. But there are many exceptions and other possibilities.

Phrases exist within a section.

Sections are the top level element of music's form. They are the the large building blocks of tango music, typically lasting around thirty seconds or so. Each section is a unique segment of music, having a distinct musical character.

Tango music has two, occasionally three, primary sections, which we may label  “A”, “B”, “C”. Sometimes there is an "Introduction", "Bridge", a short section between two larger ones, or "Coda", a short concluding section.

Usually each section will be played consecutively in order (A then B then C), followed by various other orderings. Typically in tango songs each section is played instrumentally then each is sung, then section A is played instrumentally: A-B-A (vocal)-B (vocal)-A. But there are many exceptions and other possibilities.

Phrases exist within a section.

A bar or measure is a small segment of music containing all the number of beats as specified by the time signature.

Phrasing is both how the phrase is constructed to accomplish the composer's objectives and how the music is played, that is, interpreted.

Depending on the context, when I write "phrasing" I may be referring to how the music is written in phrases, such as Question and Answer Phrasing, or how the orquesta interprets and shapes the music, or both.   more...

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